Malgudi Days took you back in time; WELCOME TO SAJJANPUR gives you a ride to your village life. For some, it will bring back life spent in villages during summer vacations and for others, memories of a life they have left behind for the proverbial search of a pot of gold in the city.
Shyam Benegal takes us through a cute ride through a contemporary village where the central character is an aspiring novelist, who has to satisfy his lust for writing by helping the illiterate villagers in writing letters. It's a small business for Mahadev (Shreyas Talpade), and he writes some interestingly witty, some intensely passionate letters to help people achieve their results. In effect, the villagers throng to him because they feel he has some magic in his pen.
At most times, he adds his feelings in the letters to get the desired effect, which he later realizes is wrong. But when Kamala (Amrita Rao), his school friend and childhood sweetheart, comes to him to write a letter to her husband who has been in Mumbai for the last four years, Mahadev sees his opportunity of spending life with Kamala. He lets his imagination go wild and mixes his reasoning with Kamala's utterings in the letters he writes to Bansi, her husband.
He almost manages to convince Kamala that her husband does not love her, and they come inches close to forging a lifelong bond. Then comes the letter, which explains the truth about Bansi. Mahadev is a shattered man and he realizes that what he was trying to tell Kamala was wrong; build her up against her husband who had left her with his mother. He now decides to make amends and sets out in search of Bansi in Mumbai.
This is the central story of WELCOME TO SAJJANPUR. There are other characters that come to him for help in letter writing. There's Illa Arun who is worried about her daughter Divya Dutta's marriage; there's Ravi Kishen the compounder who has fallen in love with the fauji's widowed daughter Rajeshwari Sachdev; there's Yashpal Sharma the local goon and there's the eunuch who contests and wins the Panchayat elections. All these assortment of characters make an interesting story, told with dollops of humour that connects the viewer with the character.
Shreyas Talpade carries off the role of a 'wanting to be novelist' and current letter writer with gusto. His wanting to help every person and irritations at times with a few, are well picturised. Never once does the actor go overboard, nor does the director take liberties with his creative freedom. Amrita Rao as Kamala is a revelation. Her body language, her innocence and her angst when she realizes that what Mahadev is telling her about her husband might be true is flawless. A complete shift from the glamorous roles she has done thus far. She shows her appetite for good cinema diving fully into the character she plays.
Every other supporting cast throws their weight behind this movie to make it special for the director. Right from Illa Arun to Ravi Kishhen to Yashpal Sharma to Divya Dutta to Kunal Kapoor who has a cameo towards the end, to the Eunuch.
Watch out for the subtle romance between Shreyas and Amrita; also watch out for the village politics.
This movie here has a different take on marriage and the power of love. It may not have the economic trappings of Jaane Tu... but is effectively alluring.